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Aunt Martha is one of the narrative’s most complex characters, embodying Jacobs’s ambivalence about motherhood and maternal love. She is a second mother to Linda, a positive force in her life, and a paragon of honesty and decency. She is loving and family-oriented, representing an ideal of domestic life and maternal love. She works tirelessly to buy her children’s and grandchildren’s freedom. Her unwavering piety leads her to attribute her enslavement to God’s will and to patiently bear the loss of her children to slave traders. Beneath her gentle veneer, Aunt Martha is a powerful figure with considerable standing in her community. She is the only Black woman in the narrative with her own home. On more than one occasion, she rebukes slave holders who harm her relatives, even telling Dr. Flint to his face that he is going to hell for his treatment of Linda.
Although she is generally a positive character, there is a less appealing side to Aunt Martha’s domesticity. She prizes home and family first and foremost, loving her children and grandchildren so possessively that she cannot bear the thought of being separated from them. She is essential to Linda’s survival, but at times her maternal power threatens to suffocate her loved ones. She would rather see them in slavery than have them run away from her to freedom. She mourns the successful escape of her son, Benjamin, who has been dreadfully abused by his master. She repeatedly urges Linda not to run away. When Linda hides in Aunt Martha’s attic crawl space, it is as if she has been locked away in a prison of Martha’s creation. In the end, Aunt Martha manages to let Linda go, but only when it is clear that to stay would spell total disaster.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl!